I’ve never researched a place so intensively as Tokyo. I spent hours pouring over the Lonely Planet, and many, many more on the internet. Usually in this planning stage, things stand out for me, hit me in the gut. I know where I want to go, and what feels right for me. Once I have a springboard, I leave the rest to fate. With Tokyo it didn’t happen like that. I got lost in a welter of information. My head went dizzy with the effort. We were going to spend three months in the biggest city in the world. I was excited, and a bit scared.
How was I to make sense of it all? Fifteen million inhabitants and counting. More than one hundred thousand restaurants. More Michelin stars than any other city in the world. Just trying to decide where to eat was giving me a headache. (Food comes pretty high on my priority list).
When we arrived it got worse, not better. For the first two weeks I was in a tail-spin. I had trouble sleeping – sure the jet-lag played a role, and losing a day in Istanbul didn’t help – but I couldn’t switch off my head. I’d lay down and images from my day would tumble through my consciousness, making me restless and jittery.
Black suited salary men. Samurai warriors and sumo wrestlers. Sushi and sashimi. High rise skyscrapers. Girls screaming at boy-bands. Gleaming steel and glittering chrome. Uniforms and peaked caps. Kimonos. Facemasks. Dogs in pushchairs. Machines selling hot drinks in cans. Electronic gadgets. Geisha. Mount Fuji. Karaoke and manga. Strange yellow ribbed markings on pavements and platforms – was I following a brick road into a wormhole?
And then a friend sent me a mail. About ichigyo-zammai. A Japanese term that basically means full concentration on a single act. It was the universe (with a little help from my friends) giving me a nudge, a reminder about the important things in life. So I took a deep breath, and let all that information fly loose. I picked a thing to do, and did it and was ‘in’ it, with it, part of it, and loving it. Sunryu Suzuki who described the practice said that only when we are fully in the moment can we express our true natures. What a beautiful idea! – that I can express my true self simply by doing one thing at a time, whatever that might be, if I am doing it with my whole being. Giving myself to it whole-heartedly.
Of course, it’s easier said than done and I’m by no means cured of monkey mind. But strange that it took coming to Tokyo – one of the most frenetic cities on earth, to remind me to just take one step at a time.